Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Armor Amour

(Mail byrnie, c. 12th century, Museum of Bayeux)

I have a long-standing fixation with medieval armor. Chain mail, to be specific. It's difficult to pinpoint the source of my fascination. Perhaps, in a previous life, I was a footsoldier in Boadicea's all-woman army.

Or perhaps my brain is still haunted by gripping visions of Dark Age tumult and turmoil from this much-loved book.

Or perhaps this by-now-iconic image of Alexander McQueen and the late, great Isabella Blow from a 1996 Vogue spread stoked my passion to uncontrollable heights.
(Photograph by David LaChapelle)

Yes, I realize there's no actual chain mail in the photo, but I suppose all the elements present cause my mind to make the connection anyway: "Castle + fire + damsel in distress + mayhem equals....ah, yes...chain mail."

Look at this ceremonial shirt from the 16th century. Over five hundred years old and it still feels modern. Even the decorative fastenings and jeweled brooches are in style. What would it feel like to wear? Heavy, certainly. But I can't help but think you would feel protected not only physically but emotionally.
(Image via

I can envision the product description: "Elegant, slim fit. Offers 100% impermeability in the battlefield (arrows, swords) and in court (betrayals, backstabbings, snarkiness). Dry clean only."

I've always thought of chain mail in terms of fashion, so I was rendered temporarily mute when I visited my friend Maria on Saturday and saw this stunning four-legged creature.
(Burlap and chain mail chair. Design by Maria Sarno.)

"Wha....?" I tried again. "Hwaaah...?" She took pity on me. "It's just a salvaged chair," she said. "I need to have it recovered. But do you like the chain mail I attached to the head rest?"
(Chain mail chair, detail)

Umm, yes. I love everything about it. I love the threadbare linen, the tattered seams and the way you've transformed it into the anthropomorphic embodiment of a medieval knight.

If fashion is considered the armor we clothe ourselves in, then surely we can upholster ourselves in it, too.


Jessica Thor-Miller said...

That ceremonial shirt is impressive. Although, you forgot to add the obligatory legalese in the Product Description:

*Wear at own risk. Manufacturer not liable for death or dismemberment resulting from improper use and care. Adult use only.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Modern Traditionalist: Love!

Jane Kilpatrick Schott said...

This was a fabulous post! I died...I must do that to a chair. Funny, but I have been saving some metal/disc fabric from an old Odd Fellows costume that would be amazing with this chair look.

Thanks...always wondered what I would end up doing with it. I will post a pic when I get it done.


Tavarua said...


Thank you so much for your kind comments. I always smile - Reading your posts which are a creation of art in the written form sculptures...Brilliant...

A late Happy New Year...

(Morocco over +2000 photos later back under canvas...)

Camera used Canon XSI


Jane said...

Also for second hand chain mail:

'One previous owner only. Worn for short period. Some small holes may need to be mended'.

The tragedy of course is that it didn't really protect them very well so a good marksman would aim for that bit where the chain mail was and the arrow wasn't.

Thanks for putting me onto that Manchester book, have you read his Churchill trilogy (well its a dualogy as he died before he could complete) - really amazing. He is a truly great historian.


Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Jane Schott: Oooh...can't wait to see it!

Jane: Manchester's Churchill biographies were the starting point of my obsession with him! I remember reading the chapter-long preface about ol' Winnie and getting teary-eyed because I was so moved. When we went to Marrakech in December, my ONE must was to go to the Churchill Bar in the Mamounia. Unfortunately, once inside, we were told very nicely by the hostess that no children were allowed (semi-lame, but whatever). So, no drinking of champagne in Sir Winston's honor, but I know somewhere he appreciated my pilgrimage.

pve design said...

When my sons were small, on a trek to the MET, we attended a wonderful program on Armor and I just was so fascinated on how in the world did they then mount a horse and proceed to jostle...
Chivalry intrigues me to no end. I have a book on it you would amour.

EE said...

What a fantastic idea.

This Elsa Peretti mesh scarf/necklace has been on my wishlist for forever:

I never thought of it as a nod to armor, but now the new meaning seems to make it an ever better accessory for workday button-down shirts. Battle-ready. :)

Vava (aka Virginia) said...

Crack me up...and then a thank you for another book recommendation. Happy reading!!!!

Rosemary Q said...

I received a Michael Kors sweater from my daughter for Christmas. It looks just like chain mail. Love that sweater and this post. Glad my sweater is for decorative purposes and not to save my life in battle.

Dash said...

A few years ago, whilst rummaging round an antique fair I came across a beautiful vintage evening bag made out of very fine chain mail, I should have bought it there and then but decided to mooch round and get it later, sadly when I returned, it had been sold.

This post reminded me of the beautiful bag. I learnt my lesson, now when I see something I like, at the right price, I buy it immediately.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I will always love that McQueen Blow picture. Honestly, that woman was fascinating!

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

ah, the title says it all.

Lily said...

There is an amazing artist called Cal Lane who is a welder and sculpts enormous pieces of iron into rusty filigree- you must check her out! She can make lace out of metal, which reminds me of your beloved chain mail... edgy and medieval and delicate all at once.

Lily said...

PS Next time you find yourself in Madrid go to the Palacio Real's Armory Museum (in the basement of the Palace) where there is the largest collection of armory in Europe. It always reminds me of some gigantic and surreal chess game, with all those suited ghosts with empty helmets standing at the ready...


Yes yes yes! I agree wholeheartedly. I think that chairs have personalities, they're almost like people in a way. I love to see them upholstered in unusual/unconventional materials, and threadbareness just lends to character. Lauren

Anonymous said...

maria sarno is a complete genius as far as i am concerned .. i have several of her bags and i'm completely crazy about what she has done to this chair! well spotted lisa!


Unknown said...

I am spotting a lot of Louis vuitton bags . These precious louis vuitton handbags should be treated newborns. They are with a gentle touch and much love. lv are some of the most luxurious of all louis vuitton .

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